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Invention versus discovery, medical treatment edition

Google Scholar alerts are a quick if crude way to be up-to-date with literature. In addition to journal articles and conference abstracts it also looks at U.S. patent applications, and despite the impenetrable legalese something will ocasionally turn up that is at least amusing, if not informative.

Today was one such occasion: a patent for a combination of two already approved drugs to treat toxicity of CAR T-cell therapy, by the group which, admittedly, was the first to give CAR T-cells to humans and the first to treat their side effects.

I may be showing my ignorance of U.S. patent law here but, how is this a thing? These drugs are already commercially available and widely used for exactly this indication. How would they enforce this patent, and how exactly would the patent help with development and commercialization of two drugs which are already on the market?

After reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From I realized that not everyone makes the distinction between discoveries and inventions, Which is the first website that DuckDuckGo returned, and it is servicable, but I was flabergasted by the long list of nearly identical websites with domain names all some variant of “difference between”. This is how ChatGPT destroys Google. and this may be an example of a discovery masquerading as an invention. Nothing was created — the drugs were already there — the team merely discovered that those two drugs work in a specific indication. If this is deserving of a patent, should every drug combination be patented?

To be clear, I am not a lawyer — caveat lector — but the whole patent system needs an overhaul and making a clearer distinction between discoveries and inventions should be one of the items on the long list of things that need attention.

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